Understanding Computer Crime: A Comparative Analysis of Convicted Canadian Computer and General Criminals

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In 1996 the Criminal Code of Canada was amended to include a number of "computer crimes." Despite the dramatic growth in the use of personal computers and the internet, psychologists have paid surprisingly little attention to the characteristics and motivations of computer criminals. This exploratory study examined the characteristics of individuals convicted of computer crimes and processed by the British Columbia Corrections Branch from 1996 to 2001. A comparative analysis was conducted on social demographic data and sentencing information for the 66 convicted computer criminals and a sample of 66 general criminals. The social demographic variables of interest included age, sex, race, marital status, education, employment, previous arrest history, and case disposition. Results indicate that there are no significant differences between the social demographics of convicted general and computer criminals. However, there was an apparent over-representation of Asians and under-representation of Native people in the computer crime sample. This finding is thought to be an artifact of SES. The data further indicated that computer criminals receive, on average, one half the sentence length of general criminals. The implications for future research are discussed.

We are currently living in the era of the "Information Revolution" (United Nations, 1999). Information technology now touches almost every aspect of life and has become the backbone for telecommunications businesses, finance, governments, health care, and education (Garfinkel & Spafford, 1996; Gattiker & Kelly, 1997; Goodell, 1996; Littman, 1995; Rapalus, 1997; United Nations, 1999). Entire infrastructures have been built to support information technology (i.e., high-speed network backbones, fiber optics, etc.). Advances in information technology, such as the Internet, have effectively erased economic borders and further strengthened the concept of the "Global Community" (Duff & Gardiner, 1996; Flohr, 1995; United Nations, 1999).

The Information Revolution has also brought with it some unique social, moral, and legal problems. As with other advances, the staggering growth of information technology has outpaced society's ability to govern, and possibly understand its implications (Denning, 1998; Mizrach, 1997; Parker, 1998; Power, 1998; United Nations, 1999). The growth rate of the Internet alone is staggering. In 1996, it was estimated that there were 13 million host computers attached to the Internet. It has been predicted that by the year 2003 there will be over 500 million host computers attached to the Internet (United Nations, 1999). It also has been estimated that by the year 2003 the revenue generated by e-business in North America will be in the trillions of dollars (United Nations, 1999).

The world of information technology is unique in that it is without borders and has no clear delineation of jurisdictions (Davis & Hutchison, 1999; United Nations, 1999). Information technology has opened the doors for the dissemination of information and the sharing of ideas (Denning, 1998; Michalowski & Pfuhl, 1991; Rogers, 2001). However, a certain negative element has arisen, characterized by the use of information technology for fraudulent activity, espionage, terrorism, revenge, perversion, and other criminal activities (Denning, 1998; Kanrow, Landels, & Landels, 1994; Mizrach, 1997; Rapalus, 1997; Schwartau, 1994). These individuals have collectively been referred to as "hackers" or more correctly "computer criminals" (Rogers, 2001; Verton, 2002).

With society's increasing dependence on computer systems, the consequences of computer criminal activity can be extremely grave. There have already been documented attacks against the critical infrastructure in both the US and Canada--emergency 911 systems, air traffic control systems, stock exchanges, railways, banks, the military and private businesses (Denning, 1998; Mitnick, 2002; Parker, 1998; Power, 2002). …